Madame Bovary of the Suburbs by Sophie Divry and Alison Anderson (translator)
|Madame Bovary of the Suburbs by Sophie Divry and Alison Anderson (translator)|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A perfect evocation of domestic monotony – with all the good and the bad that reading about such things can entail.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 288||Date: July 2017|
|Publisher: MacLehose Press|
It starts with becoming a homeowner, then settling in, then reproducing.
Well, it actually starts a lot before then, with a set of fractured memories of our heroine's childhood – things she recalls her parents and relatives saying both to and about her. It goes through her childhood, and pen letters to a best friend conveying her wishes for her life, those wishes being revised and affirmed by the liberty of university years, those wishes being met with or denied by married life… Someone archly could point out that you should be careful what you wish for, but not even our wise, modern woman could not see the next step after the reproducing – standing disappointed in front of the refrigerator.
Yes, this character had yearned for love over desire, a family and a career, and a home of their own, right from the start. And boy did she get it. I say this character for she is hardly named, and we know her most as M.A. – initials clearly pointing to her maternal nature, even if that may have been less marked in the original French. We get to know her husband, and her children, and her holidays and houses, and routine – which is both the point and the problem.
There is a brilliant touch here and there regarding the humdrum life – the return from a holiday that they try to sustain by hanging an overly-expensive painting bought on their travels is countered with the woman knowing subliminally every turn and shift in the routine noises from the washing machine. That surely speaks to us all – how we just sense while multitasking (whatever gender we may be) that change in children's laughter that impels us to suspect a fight, or the shift in the traffic noise perhaps that means we're late putting the dinner together, or said appliance singing to us in different tones. But there is also very forgettable writing that just piles on the domestic misery and minor details of her lot. There's a short-lived but established pattern of defining her daily journeys as regards the motions of her driving feet, with her errands itemised in a list of directions for them. But we then get two whole pages telling us what the author knows of cars of the period.
You also learn things at bizarrely unusual times. Just when the woman's moved into her first family home of her own, we get a physical description of the childhood house she remembers. We enter the head of one male character to see what he thinks of the business he works at, at just the most opportune moment.
What's more, which I also found to the detriment to the book, our woman is addressed in the second person narrative. This unsettled from the start – 'you thought this, you remember that, you wanted that'. Are we supposed to be sympathetic to the character – a female who in the translated title at least is compared to the classic example of a woman wanting more? If so, why make her automatically naïve when she cannot hope to compete with the all-knowing narrator? That's not to say the narrator is arch, or unsympathetic, but it didn't work, having this voice that knows all the ins and outs (and ins and outs, and ins and outs…) and just describes them back to the woman who has had to live it for real. Did she – or indeed us – need two whole pages describing how we went to shop when the new mall came along?
This final factor can again be an issue. There is certainly a place on our shelves for a book that defines the society the characters live in through the things they buy, the town arrangement and increasing traffic, the coming and going of both brands and style of shop. But here it does also mean the book is clearly of more interest to the Francophone, or at least regular visitor. The author's debut book did have some very French elements here and there, but was much more universal – and, to my mind, enjoyable. This shows more literary heft, perhaps, but nothing like the charm or narrative drive I expected.
I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.
That debut book from this author? Why, it's the lovely The Library of Unrequited Love.
You can read more book reviews or buy Madame Bovary of the Suburbs by Sophie Divry and Alison Anderson (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Madame Bovary of the Suburbs by Sophie Divry and Alison Anderson (translator) at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.